Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Metro's Silver Line construction (June 13, 2011) - or "We brave Tyson's so you don't have to."

It had been six months (October 4; see Archive) since my last visit to the Metro construction site at Tyson's Corner. I've been procrastinating big time; I just couldn't bring myself to wade back into that traffic hell-hole. Finally, on June 13, I "screwed my courage to the sticking place" (Macbeth) and headed west from Rosslyn on I-66.

The Silver Line begins as an elevated turnout off  the main line a short distance before the Beltway, curving north along VA route 267. When 267 reaches the Beltway it becomes the Dulles Toll Road, but just before that, the Silver Line turns southwest and follows VA route 123, aka Chain Bridge Road, towards Tyson's Corner. Let's take a look [CLICK PHOTOS TO ENLARGE]:

Here's where the elevated track turns north along VA route 267:

The Silver Line's route through this area is highlighted below in yellow. Notice what happens at Tyson's Corner. See the broken red line? That's the cut-and-cover tunnel along route 123. The tunnel begins just east of International Drive, exits at the intersection with route 7, then follows 7 northwest toward the Dulles Toll Road:

Below we're off I-66 onto route 7, letting the Silver Line proceed along 267 without me, and am now approaching Tyson's Hell:

These giant orange-and-blue things were not erected by Gator fans from the University of Florida. They appear to be precision-aimed supports that hold the forms into which concrete will be poured when building a support pier:

Note the detail in this form, tailor-made for all kinds of hardware and stuff to fit neatly in--or not:

Steel forms are being readied for a major serving of concrete:

A close-up look at the steel forms into which concrete will be poured to create the T-shaped pier:

Steel forms lying on the ground. Clamp 'em together like clamshells:

Now let's move to route 123, Chain Bridge Road. Climb the hill going west, turn around, and look back east. Notice the guideway entering the hill at the east portal of the cut-and-cover tunnel. Going away into the distance, the line curves to the left for a short run along 123 before moving over into the middle of route 267 on its way east back to the mainline switch in I-66:

For a better view of the east portal, I walked out onto the second-floor patio of the Courtyard by Marriott on route 123 and pointed the camera east. The Metro line is in the center, and off to the right is a new highway bridge across the Beltway:

After the line dives into the hill, where does it emerge? Where's the west portal? I drove west and parked in a car dealer's lot at the corner of route 123 and route 7. Here's the scene at the back of the hill, where I figured the west portal should be. Just a lot of equipment (and a really tall weather radar tower)--but no portal:

 So I stood there for a few minutes and watched the crane operator lifting containers:

And then I noticed this peculiarity to the right of the crane. What are those things that look like a pile of rusty pipes?

A tight zoom revealed (drum roll) this was the west portal. Those pipe-like things are steel beams holding the framework around the portal. Look closely and at the back wall you can even see the wooden planks covering the entrance:

Finally, I headed back east to review progress along the east end. Here's where it bends east along route 123:
Now we're on route 123 driving east toward route 267, the way back to I-66:

"Return of the Giant Killer Grasshoppers from Uranus!" No, it's a lifting gantry, used to move long sections of concrete guideways into place:

Now we're looking east toward the line's sweeping curve back toward 267 and eventually I-66:

And here we part company with the elevated track as it curves southeast toward 267 and back to I-66:

That's it for this tour of Metro's Silver Line project in the Tyson's area. I'll check to see what's happened and post an update in, oh, another six months. Maybe.


Building the D.C. Streetcar System, or Watching Grass Grow (June 26, 2011)

This is the fifth in a series of progress reports on the District's new streetcar system, based on a tour of the two lines Sunday afternoon, June 26, 2011.

Since my last report (October 19, 2010; see Archives), some progress was evident but there's more to be done before streetcars can roll. There are two line segments: H Street NE from 3rd Street (near Union Station) to 14th Street, then down Benning Road just past 21st Street, where the line ends in the middle of the street--2 miles in all; and the very short Anacostia "initial line segment" from Firth Sterling at Suitland Parkway down South Capitol Street to a point where it runs out in the woods, near nothing inhabited--0.75 miles in all, currently nowhere to nowhere. Eventually (no doubt pending funding) it will connect the Navy Annex to the Barry Farm area and then the Anacostia Metro station.

H Street trackage is now continuous over the line's entire length. Since my October visit, the gap at 14th Street NE has been closed, all right-of-way concrete has been poured, and the catenary/lamp poles are all installed. Except . . . there's no catenary yet. Some asphalt is being poured along one or two blocks to bring the street up to grade level with the concrete in which the tracks have been laid.

Ditto for the Anacostia line. All the rail is down, all the right-of-way concrete poured, the spur is completed that leads across South Capitol Street into the empty lot where a shop is to be built. And no catenary. But they saw to it that grade-crossing signs were put up. That's optimism.


The H Street Line

Across the street, young women hang clothing on an old brick wall painted with a Uneeda Biscuit "ghost" sign:

On our last visit to the H Street line, work on this area--near 14th Street, where five roads converge--had barely begun. Now it's a wrap:

We're now following the tracks onto Benning Road:

The tracks end about two more blocks down  this hill, just before the barely-visible Metro overpass:

The Anacostia Line

This is the southern terminus of the line, on South Capitol Street. This streetcar will need a lawn mower on its plow:

The turnout into the shop--well, where one day there'll be a shop--on South Capitol Street:

We've all seen grade crossing signs left standing long after a rail line has been abandoned. Here's a grade crossing sign put up well before the line is activated, which should make a few motorists' heads snap:

Facing south toward the end of the line:

Finally, we drove north on South Capitol Street, turned north onto Firth Sterling Avenue, and followed the line to its current northern terminus at the intersection with Suitland Parkway:

Meanwhile, near Howard Street and Firth Sterling, a block north of the streetcar line's end-of-track, rails from the abandoned CSX (B&O) Shepherd Branch host a convention of weeds off to the right:

DDOT had said in a presentation last fall that these lines would open in 2012, but WTOP, in a bit of old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting, interviewed officials and announced June 29 DDOT is now looking at "late 2013." Quoting from the report, "'In terms of over the next several months, we hope to finalize a contract on the design-build portion of H Street,' says [DDOT spokesperson John] Lisle. In the 'design-build' process, things like power substations and overhead wires will be set up along H Street. In addition, D.C. is still in negotiations with Amtrak about constructing a storage facility under what is known as the 'Hop-Scotch' bridge on H Street behind Union Station.'The goal is to start building early next year,' says Lisle.
And while those negotiations and contract details get figured out, the District still has another issue on its hands: It needs more streetcars. Right now, DDOT has three streetcars, but Lisle says H Street alone will need five or six. The three streetcars the city purchased years ago cost roughly $10 million total.A source also tells WTOP that the Anacostia segment of the streetcar system -- which was supposed to be the first segment running -- has now moved in back of H Street. An environmental review process is currently underway on the Anacostia line segment, and service on that line now isn't likely until somewhere nearer 2014, or possibly even later."

Stay tuned for future reports . . .